The Psychology of Running

With the Comrades less than a week away, I have had a fair share of people asking me how I manage to run for so long (around 10 – 12 hours) and so far (89km), so I thought I’d share what goes through, or more accurately what doesn’t go through my mind during this race…

The biggest thing about being able to do endurance events is how well you are able to get into the ‘zone’ or to the point where you body is doing what it needs to do automatically, and the mind is still.  You need to stop all the doubt and frustration going through your mind because I believe this is the factor which determines whether you have a good race or not.

I have said this before and I’m going to say it again, this is just one day!  One day of pain and fear and exhaustion, but just a day, not a week or a month or a lifetime.


Before the race I try and stay as calm as possible.  It is very easy to get caught up in the mayhem at the start and it is also very common to feed off the nervous excitement and anxiety of other runners.  I try and block all of this out and focus on the fact that I am standing at the start of the oldest Ultra Marathon in the World and the fact that I am finally at the point where all my months of hard work are going to pay off.  I try and stop negative thoughts before they have even had a chance to bloom and gain momentum.  I would suggest basking in ‘Chariots of Fire’ and the fact that you have loved ones watching from all corners of the country.  It is too late at this stage to stress about the training you didn’t do, focus on what you did and trust in your power of will.

During the Race

The way I see it is that to get through the day, you have to become pretty damn good at ignoring what is going on in your head.  Your legs will be sore, your feet will be aching and there will be various other aches and pains which will occupy your mind – if you let it.  It basically becomes a battle between you and that noise in your head (mind).  My first line of defence is usually to find someone to speak to – this distracts your mind from focusing on what is sore and other negative thoughts by concentrating on someone else.  If there is nobody in sight I will put my iPod in and crank it up depending on how much my mind is protesting.

If this doesn’t work, and there is usually a couple of points in the race where you will need to step it up a notch in running your mind into submission – this is where I will try and connect with my senses which shuts the discursive mind (that part of your mind which is making a noise) right up.  A simple running through of your senses, from feeling your feet in your shoes and your clothes on your body, taste, smell and sight to hearing your heartbeat and the sound of the footfalls of runners around you.  This does wonders in reconnecting you with that part within which is capable of anything.

As you run into the stadium

You need to remember to be totally focused as you run into the stadium at the end.  You need to enjoy and remember what it is like to run into a stadium where thousands of people are shouting for you because YOU have just run 89km, you need to be with it enough to plant this memory into your brain, although I must warn you, it is usually due to this feeling at the end which makes people do this race again and again 🙂

I have a little energy exercise I also do when I’m REALLY feeling like I might lose the battle with the noise in my head, but that is for another post.

The Psychology of Running


  1. Cands says:

    Thanks Cath, I recon you could get into this too 🙂

  2. Cath says:

    This is so interesting for a pleb non-ultra runner like me! Good luck on Sunday…not that you need it!!

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